In this Handpresso Auto espresso maker review, we try one of the most compact, portable electronic espresso makers we’ve seen.
The French Handpresso company has been building espresso makers since 2008, and while the name suggests a machine that does everything for you, in fact Auto references where the coffee is made:
In an automobile.
– Wow factor
– Quality design, feel and finish
– Dodges coffee shops and bills
– Fills your car with fresh coffee aroma
– Premium price
– Can get messy
– Limited serving size
Fittingly it’s the Europeans who bring us the perfect way to create your own mobile café. The French and Italians invented the espresso machine and perfected the art of deep, dark shots of coffee accompanied by that rich aroma, the sound and drama of steam from the machine, and the finishing touch of golden crema.
The 12-volt Handpresso Auto has the appearance of a miniature time machine crossed with a travel mug. It’s upright, slightly bullet-shaped and sits in a car cupholder The outside features a temperature gauge in celsius, power button and a release button to allow pouring. The casing has a tough, durable looking black coating that’s grippy and easy to wipe clean, and the whole unit has a solid feel and weighs a reassuringly sturdy 2 pounds. The 12-volt power lead snaps into place around the midsection of the unit and wraps tightly around it.
Two separate lids allow you to use two different sources of coffee. One, the Domepod, is for grounds, and the other lets you use pods using the specialized E.S.E. system (Easy Serving Espresso). The package is completed by a Handpresso branded premium rag for mopping up spills and keeping the case clean – a thoughtful and necessary touch.
Brewing a cup is a straightforward and familiar process to any home coffee machine owners. Begin by filling the water reservoir. It takes around 1.79 fluid ounces, enough for an average espresso shot. Handpresso recommends avoiding the impurities of tap water and using filtered or bottled water. Next fill the Domepod with finely ground coffee, then turn and lock the lid shut.
With the Handpresso Auto standing securely in a cupholder, its 12-volt cord plugged into the car cigarette lighter and the vehicle’s ignition turned on, press the power button. The Handpresso Auto comes to life with a whirring, hammering sound. The noise dies away after a minute, and the temperature gauge continues to rise to around 200 degrees before the unit beeps three times to indicate brewing is finished. For a quicker brew, or if you prefer your coffee not quite as rich or hot, you can stop the machine earlier. Unplug the unit, hold it over a cup, turn it over and press the release button, and out will come fresh, hot espresso, steam and a very pleasant aroma.
I generally preferred to fill and load ground coffee and water into the Handpresso Auto before setting off in the morning, then storing it in a cupholder or the glove compartment until the need arose for a coffee stop. The pods were a tidy alternative, and probably a better bet along with a bottle of water for repeated cups on the go. But make sure you know a reliable supplier of the correct ones.
Most instructional videos show the Handpresso Auto in use in a stationary car. I would strongly advise against operating it in a moving vehicle, unless a responsible passenger is “driving” the Handpresso. By definition, an espresso machine requires very hot water and high pressure – 8.8 bar is typically accepted as the rating for an espresso machine, 8.8 times atmospheric pressure at sea level. The Handpresso Auto can go to almost double that, as it can pressurize hot water up to 16 bars. That and 65 miles an hour do not mix well.
The cleaning cloth will get some use on your first attempts at pouring, as you attempt to line up the spout, button and a cup right underneath. But with practice it soon gets less messy.
This device is best for a rapid coffee break on the go, but with a bit of imagination it will keep you out of Starbucks all day by supplying fresh espresso shots, easily topped up with hot water for an americano.
How good is the coffee?
The cups of espresso we tested came out at around 170 to 180 degrees, freshly poured out. The gauge on the Handpresso Auto was pretty accurate, and it’s in the ideal temperature range for an espresso.
As with any fresh coffee making device, some learning is required to find your preferred grind of coffee and source of water. Bottled water produced more of a crema on top and a smoother, less bitter taste than tap water. Fine ground coffee, produced a richer flavor, although Handpresso don’t supply any tool for packing the coffee in, so you’ll have to improvise with the back of a spoon.
Overall it performed very consistently and on a level with a budget home espresso maker in terms of the heat and pressure generated, and for something a little taller than a takeaway cup that’s impressive.
For around $200 it’s a bit more than a novelty gift, but compares well with the price of the best espresso machines. But it opens up a world of possibilities for the espresso faithful, for minimizing the distance between cups.